What You Should Know About Documenting Business Procedures

Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing layout, processes and procedures - Tom Peters

Documenting even the simplest business procedure may seem complex at first. It may seem even more complex getting stakeholders to make time to review procedure documents. Let's face it – these documents can be boring and for many analysts involved in documenting procedures, making them simple, interesting and easy to read can be a major challenge.

You're probably wondering at this point whether it's necessary to invest your time and effort in producing procedure documents. While some companies document business procedures as a mandatory and legal requirement, there are several benefits to having well-documented business procedures:

  • When you document business procedures, you gain a better understanding of how things work and can easily find loopholes and opportunities for improvement.
  • Documented procedures come in handy when you recruit new staff or change the roles of existing ones. You will be able to get new staff up to speed on how things work quickly when there is a consistent reference for getting the job done.
  • Documented procedures make it easy to delegate work since they provide staff with clear instructions on how to perform their duties.

In documenting procedures, it's easy to evade the many possible wrong turns. This article sheds some light on how to document a business procedure in an accessible and understandable manner. Hopefully, you won't find the task of documenting business procedures daunting or boring again, if you apply these tips.

What Are The Main Stages In Documenting A Business Procedure?

Documenting a business procedure comprises three main stages:

  • Setting the Stage: This involves knowing what to do before you actually start like understanding the objectives of the procedure and preparing everything you need in order to document the procedure.

  • Execution: Producing a draft procedure document.

  • Review & Conclusion: Asking for feedback & finalizing the procedure.

Stage I: Setting the stage

The preparation stage involves researching the subject. At this point, there are three key areas of research: a) The Business Structure b) The Stakeholders and c) The Business Area.

It's useful to have an understanding of the business as a whole as a first step in documenting business procedures. Lay down the basics of the business area you are exploring – its concept, way of operating, customer base, target market, suppliers and partners, working hours, infrastructure and anything else you can lay your hands on. All of these may sound insignificant or obvious, but having a comprehensive map of the structure of the business can set you off to a good start. 

In researching the business area, you should know which stakeholders are in charge of each business area so that you can contact for information. Firsthand information on the business area and associated procedures may be gathered through typical requirements elicitation exercises like:

  1. Interview

  2. Observation and

  3. Workshop

Stage II: Execution

Once you're through with the preparation stage, it's time to get things really going and proceed to the business procedure draft.

Procedural documents tend to become bulky as you produce them and add more detail. Let's use the analogy of a map – a map contains a lot of useful information on how to get to your destination. Signs, colours and landmarks are used to communicate to anyone reading the map, making it easy to comprehend, despite the volume of information it contains. A procedure should be documented the same way. Make use of a table of content, headers, colours and images so that stakeholders can navigate through the document easily.

When drafting the procedure body, follow these two rules of thumb:

Think Visualization. People prefer not to have to read through walls of text. Stakeholders usually have their own work and may find it difficult to read through lengthy procedure documents in the short time they have. Multimedia and different graphic elements are your best bet when it comes to producing a great procedure document. Consider using:

  • Images

  • Icons

  • Infographics

  • Signs

  • Flowcharts and

  • Videos

Think Simple Writing Style and Tone. As mentioned earlier, keep sentence structure and paragraphs short and clear. Simplify the procedure with a table of content & navigation links that can help stakeholders find their way through the maze of information.

With stakeholders, there's one key point to remember – Not everyone that reads the procedure document will understand the terminology you have used. Consider including a glossary for the benefit of anyone reading the document.

Also, break down the procedure into bits that are easy to comprehend. Be concise and go straight to the point. Explain things in a simple and straight-forward manner and avoid the use of complex words, where possible.

Stage III: Review & Conclusion

The business procedure, before it is approved or formalized, should go through the scrutiny of process participants and other relevant stakeholders. The first thing to do after you've finished your draft procedure is to involve stakeholders in its review. A good way to accomplish this with minimal disruption is to use a collaborative platform where documents can be reviewed with changes, suggestions & comments tracked. This is particularly important if the procedure is new or has been improved – This implies that old ways of working will no longer apply and as such, some level of change management and collaboration would need to be done.

A lot of questions are probably running through your mind now.

Won't extensive feedback get in the way since stakeholders may have concerns that need to be addressed?

Won't this slow down the documentation of the business procedure?

In the event that your fears are realized, it's better to cope with changes before the procedure is formalized than afterwards.

Stakeholders know their procedures best since they are involved in the daily operations and there might be some details you missed during requirements elicitation. Never underestimate their valuable input. If you do not involve them early, your procedure document may be seen as incomplete, out of touch with reality and prone to future disruption.

After getting feedback on your procedure document, there's only one thing left to do: Improve the document based on the comments you have received. At the end of this process, you should have a finished, well-documented business procedure waiting to improve key aspects of your company's business.